During their spring recess, members of Congress are confronting the issue of immigration reform as they meet with constituents and explain their evolving positions on the issue. This is particularly true among Republican officials, many of whom have gone from opposing the DREAM Act and advocating self-deportation a year ago, to now supporting a broader legalization and even a path to citizenship.
Last Tuesday morning marked an historic first for cybersecurity buffs: the largest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack in history, which used the structure of the internet itself to power an attack on Spamhaus, a company that distributes a blacklist of spam-hosting websites. As these types of attacks become more commonplace, it is becoming evident that despite all of the attention given to our critical infrastructure, private industry may very well bear the brunt of the cyber threat. Which makes the lack of discussion about how to bring private industry on board with cyber legislation all the more puzzling.
This weekend the Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO, monoliths of business and labor, agreed to the last major component on immigration reform. With the visa cap of 200,000 and wage scale finalized, reform is picking up momentum. Indeed, Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) promised to move immigration legislation with “all deliberate speed.” Unfortunately for Congress, bipartisanship on any legislation that does not get tied up by obstructionism is not the general rule, but a rare exception.
The “Gang of Eight” senators working on an immigration reform bill say they are near agreement on a bill. But not until four of them, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), tour the Arizona-Mexico border this week and hold a press conference.
I’m not sure why they need this excursion to the border — especially Sens. McCain and Flake who are both from Arizona (I imagine they’ve seen it before). Sens. Schumer and Bennet will find a high tech, impenetrable fence which traverses most of the Southwest United States and does a pretty good job of keeping out migrants.
The United States spends north of seven hundred billion dollars annually in the name of defense. No non-state actor let alone another state power comes close to parity with the United States armed forces. Given the preponderance of American military power most any military threat could be described as asymmetric. Perhaps there is no better manifestation of an asymmetric and yet still existentially threatening actor than that of transnational terrorism. At any place and at any time the transnational terrorist threat is real regardless of the dollar figure America spends on its military.
With sequestration now in effect, experts are debating the future of the Department of Defense (DoD). The agency has already committed to $487 billion in budget cuts over the next decade, but it also recognizes the need to modernize as it slims down. As the new secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel must address a critical issue for America’s defense: how to keep the department at the forefront of the information age. A smart first step would be bringing Silicon Valley to the Pentagon.
On Wednesday, four key senators from the so-called “Gang of 8” will visit the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona to view conditions there as they work to finalize comprehensive immigration reform legislation. If they are looking at the situation objectively, what they will recognize is that there has been a massive intensification of border enforcement and personnel over the past decade – from FY2004 to FY2012, the budget for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) increased by 94 percent to $11.7 billion. Too often, border security has simply grown wastefully and abusively without regard to genuine public safety need.
One program that is emblematic of this is Operation Streamline, a southwest border prosecution initiative that indiscriminately prosecutes tens of thousands of border-crossers in federal criminal court – instead of using administrative deportation hearings.
Senators Flake, Bennet, McCain, and Schumer should visit one of the federal courthouses along the U.S. Mexico border, where every day, up to 70 women and men are shuffled into courtrooms shackled hand to foot. Most have come to the United States to look for better opportunities for their families or to re-unite with their family members already here. Some have come to escape the violence in Mexico or Central American countries.
There is no jury in the courtroom. In fact, there are so many defendants that they sit in the jury box and in the benches typically set aside for the public. Most of them plead guilty at once, en masse, to illegal entry into the U.S. Individual equities like a defendant’s U.S. citizen children are not considered. They are just sent packing with federal prison time. We’re sure that if they witnessed these proceedings, the senators would agree that it’s impossible to reconcile the process in these courts with American ideals of justice, fairness, and due process for all. No wonder the Holy See has criticized the federal government for this large-scale criminalization of migrants.
In theory, the main goal of this program is to introduce more punitive consequences for entering the country without inspection, thus discouraging individuals from attempting to re-enter the United States. But there has been no comprehensive analysis concluding that Streamline actually deters people from coming. In fact, comparing the experience in San Diego, where Streamline is not used, with Tucson, where it has been in effect since 2008, border arrest statistics suggest the contrary.
There is a set of rules that we value and rely on in the U.S. justice system: we expect that a person will receive “Miranda” warnings when arrested and be provided an attorney if he or she cannot afford one. We expect that a person held in pre-trial custody may ask for bail and that he or she has the right to a fair and speedy hearing before an impartial judge. We expect that a judge will throw out government evidence that was obtained in violation of the constitution and that a person convicted of a crime may appeal that decision. While the U.S. justice system is far from perfect and too often fails on its promises, we expect it to operate under a set of rules that affords defendants their day in court.
As a bipartisan group of U.S. senators prepares to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill, the discussion should widen to address injustices caused by our complex and punitive deportation laws. While it is vital to support long-overdue efforts for reform, it is also crucial to recognize that previous legislation has created a system in our immigration courts that is harsh, inflexible, and inadequate in providing due process protections.
When I was an immigration judge in San Francisco, I presided over scores of cases involving immigrants held in prisons, who were deported after months or even years of unnecessary detention because of our flawed immigration laws. Some of them would have been legitimate refugees, and others would have had other legal means to remain in the country. The vast majority were migrant workers, whose only mistake had been living in a house with other aspiring citizens or sharing a meal at a restaurant when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted a sweep of the neighborhood. They posed no danger to the community, and often had no criminal convictions that would mandate their detention. In fact, in the vast majority of the cases that came before me, I saw workers, mothers and fathers who were committed to our country and contributing to our culture.